Cross-dressers in the Luddite Movement
Clothes stand for knowledge and language, art and love, time
and death—the creative, struggling state of man. While they
conceal only his unapplied, unrealized body they reveal all of
his and its possibilities. But to do this, they (like language) are
condemned to contingency, and consequently the idea of them
is something of a thorn and a goad.
—Anne Hollander, Seeing Through Clothes
DURING THE SPRING OF 1812, A SERIES OF LUDDITE RIOTS OCCURRED in Cheshire, Lancashire, and Yorkshire’s West Riding. In one of these disturbances, on 14 April 1812, men wearing women’s clothing and calling themselves “General Ludďs wives” led a crowd of men, women, and boys on a rampage through the market area of Stockport, destroying food shops, and resetting prices for bread and potatoes. The event culminated in the destruction of steam-powered looms in a factory owned by John Goodair.
The Stockport riot was only one of a number of incidents of gender inversion and the feminization of self-presentation in the Luddite risings, the period of machine-breaking and rioting in the textile-producing regions of the English Midlands and North between 1811 and 1813. Through these incidents, I propose to examine the structure of Luddism and the relationship of working-class masculine identity to class organization during the period of rapid mechanization in the textile industry, especially among the clothworkers of Yorkshire’s West Riding and southeastern Lancashire. I shall treat the instances of feminized Luddite presentation along with components of the manufacturing context—clothing, machines, gender, and worker friendships—in light of recent theories of male relationships and popular protest. I shall contend that these incidents might be interpreted as markers of what I shall define below as a “homoindustrial” desire and of changes in working-